Helping Kids Become Resilient

We all know people who have been through a lot but are able to bounce back—emotionally strong, physically healthy, happy, and able to achieve. We also know individuals who appear to have every advantage but fall apart at the first sign of trouble. The difference is resilience. Resilient people are able to adapt, despite adversity.

When things happen unexpectedly or take a wrong turn, gifted children are just as susceptible to the intense vulnerability that accompanies struggle and tragedy whether it results from something beyond their control or is simply caused by errors in judgment. Given the right tools, young people can gain control over how they react to situations. Children can learn to be more resilient by becoming more optimistic in response to difficulty.

Helping Kids Rebound from Mistakes, an entry in Michele Borba's blog, offers some great advice for parents (teachers, these are good techniques for the classroom as well). Using colorful anecdotes, Borba lists concrete ways to teach kids to bounce back from difficult situations, see mistakes as learning opportunities, and keep trying. In addition to teaching techniques, she suggests that teachers and parents use optimistic language when addressing students in a vulnerable state. She recommends:

  • Be an example of bouncing back
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Start a “bounce back!” motto
  • Create a “Stick to It” award
  • Help children see mistakes as opportunities
  • Respond to errors noncritically
  • Offer support only when needed
In Duke Gifted Letter’s article Promoting Resilience, Maureen Neihart discusses how adults can help children develop the ability to bounce back. Neihart recommends:

  • Praising effort rather than performance
  • Reading hopeful, optimistic stories with resilient characters, discussing the challenges the characters face, and the choices they make
  • Helping the child brainstorm many possible reasons for a situation to prevent the development of black-or-white thinking
  • Doing anything and everything possible to enhance the child’s relationships with caring adults
In Mental Toughness, Resiliency, and Endurance, Fernette and Brock Eide recommend:

  • Modeling resiliency for young people
  • Praising effort and perseverance more than accomplishment
  • Encouraging risk-taking and boldness
  • Allowing kids to fail, but being ever ready with unconditional emotional support, context (failure is one of the best ways to learn), and redirection toward the future

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